Most of my summers during my childhood were spent in Williamsburg, Virginia, where my grandparents, my mom’s parents, along with other relatives all along the Eastern shore, lived. There was one person in particular who always fascinated me — a statuesque, dark-skinned, bejeweled woman who walked like she was floating on air.
As I grew older, I began to notice that this mysterious woman, Georgette, had hands and feet much bigger, and a voice much deeper than those that the other women in my life possessed. In addition, she had extremely broad shoulders — in fact, I had even ridden on them a few times. Still, she had pretty hair, wore pretty dresses and had teeth so white you could turn off the lights and still see your way. Eventually, my grandmother confessed that “Georgette” was actually “George” — a man who dressed and lived as a woman — a man who, as my grandmother explained, felt “trapped” in the wrong body and who desperately wanted to be free. So, we welcomed Georgette into our home, into our lives and into our family, mainly because my grandmother, the family matriarch, demanded it.
Georgette surely had it rough, if not dangerous, back then — during the 1960s and ’70s — when little was known about the challenges facing those now called “transgender.” But it’s different today, right?
Truthfully, it may be ever worse and even more dangerous as violence against transgender people has reached an all-time high. Meanwhile, national media coverage and reports of their murders continue to be either ignored or hidden away on the back pages of newspapers.
In 2016, 27 transgender people were killed in the U.S., almost all being women of color. Some of their identities still remain unknown. Most had no one to ever claim their body — bodies washed up on our shores, deposited in alleys or stuffed in trashcans like undesirable refuse. As a group, transgender people face a greater risk of death by hate violence than any other group in America. What is the Black community doing about these unsolved murders? Why aren’t our leading politicians and preachers demanding greater protection for them and additional resources to solve their deaths? Do we even care?
When I was a little boy, summers were spent visiting my grandparents in Virginia and Alabama where my Daddy’s folks lived. I learned that family meant everything, that everyone was welcome and that everyone mattered — no matter how different they were. Back then I could say, like James Brown, “I’m Black and I’m proud,” with real conviction. Now … I’m not so sure.
I miss those days!!